Streetwise Professor

July 23, 2022

Black Jack: A Coda

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:04 pm

To round out the picture of Logan’s antagonism to service academies, it is worth noting that although he was a pre-War Democrat from a part of Illinois (“Little Egypt,” in the far south of the state) that was widely deemed to be sympathetic to the South, post-War Logan was an ardent pro-Reconstruction Republican and one of the most widely renowned practitioners of “bloody shirt” politics. He hated the South with a passion, and this also contributed to his West Point/Annapolis animus.

Logan’s book The Volunteer Soldier in America has a very strong populist, republican (small “r”) tone. Many of his arguments against the academies echo those of Jeffersonians and Jacksonians before him, perhaps not surprisingly given Logan’s upbringing in a staunch Jacksonian area of the country. Logan believed the academies to be anti-republican, aristocratic, and oligarchic in nature, and believed their graduates to be anti-republican and aristocratic in turn. Thus, they were a threat to self-government, whereas a military firmly rooted in the people, through a militia system, would not be.

Logan linked this aristocratic predilection to the South, which he viewed as being aristocratic and anti-republican due to slavery. He believed slavery was incompatible with popular rule, and inevitably led to the dominance of an aristocratic class. He argued that if secession had succeeded, the South would have become a monarchy, not a republic.

This was in turn linked to his view of the pernicious effects of the political nature of academy appointments: anti-republican elements in the country (especially in the South) corrupted the academies, and hence the military, with their appointment of like minded cadets and midshipmen.

Logan also expressed what could be called an early version of capture theory. He argued that the military establishment had captured the government, and as a result was able to extract lavish benefits from it. No doubt this astounded those serving in the 1870s-1880s military, who commonly complained of low pay, glacial promotion, and inadequate numbers.

So I think it’s fair to say that Logan’s anti-academy, anti-professional military views were a combination of bitter personal experience and political populism. In many ways, he was a 19th century expositor of a debate that had raged in the United States since before the founding: did the US need a professional military?; was a professional military a threat to self-government?

Bloody shirt politics became less and less popular after the Hayes-Tilden election, and the end of Reconstruction in 1877. Within a decade Logan was increasingly unpopular, as this print from 1885 shows:

That’s Logan getting booed off the stage. Note the blood-stained shirt hanging on his back.

As an aside, when skimming through Logan’s book I was reminded of the works of a contemporary, and another Civil War veteran, Theodore Ayrault Dodge. Dodge wrote many books on military history, including biographies of Gustavus Adolphus, Hannibal, Alexander, Napoleon, Frederick, and Caesar. In his book on Caesar, he repeatedly lauded the citizen-based Roman armies of the Republic, and compared Caesar’s professional army to them in very unfavorable terms.

Dodge was also a volunteer soldier, losing a leg at Gettysburg–ironically while in O. O. Howards XI Corps. He obviously shared Logan’s beliefs regarding the correct military for a republic, and the superiority of a popular, volunteer army over a professional one.

You can see echoes of these views in modern American politics, especially in this age of resurgent populism–and the reaction against it.

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  1. “was a professional military a threat to self-government?” The British solution, from the late 17th century, had been that (i) a standing army should be small and largely overseas, (ii) the army should be under the direction of Parliament, the navy under the King, and (iii) the army should cease to exist unless an Act to the contrary was passed every year.

    In these fallen times the Continuation order need be passed only every five years.

    Comment by dearieme — July 24, 2022 @ 8:33 am

  2. One has to love Logan’s passion. Echos of his views appear in today’s 2d Amendment rhetoric. Abolition of a professional officer corps in favor of a beefed up militia system is an interesting counterfactual. Maybe the isolationist bias of the US is preserved & US refuses to intervene in WW I. Maybe we replicate UK’s navy-first policy more exactly. Still it is hard to imagine complete abolition of the professional officer corps even if we see it as a deep state caste. And it didn’t happen because modern industrialized, free trade countries need effective militaries. Not for nothing have the key free trade, reserve currency nations been the strongest naval & (now) air powers.

    Dodge is way wrong though in attributing to Caesar the end of the Roman citizen soldier. That honor goes more directly to Caesar’ great uncle Marius, his antagonist Sulla & Pompey the Great. Indirectly it traces to the increased wealth of Rome & the ever increasing hatred between the Optimates -the nobility- & the Popularis who relied on the people -or the mob if one looks at popular movements that way.

    Comment by Ty Kelly — July 28, 2022 @ 1:14 pm

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